Who invented whisky is a question that will probably forever be contested between the Irish and the Scots. There is, however, no contesting the fact that while the Irish whiskey industry led the field during the 18th and 19th centuries, to the point of being able to choose a different spelling for the product, yet came dangerously close to extinction in the 20th. At the same time, Scotch whisky rose to global prominence.
In fact, the signature Irish style of whiskey, the single potstill – created to avoid paying tax on malt – almost died out completely for not adopting to the times and making blends with grain whisky (or whiskey) made in patent stills. 1909 is the year in which the Royal Commission found in favor of grain whisky being considered, well, whisk(e)y, further boosting the Scottish blends. Given that blended whisky was taking over the world, the Irish industry was simply in no condition to compete, especially in the face of World War I, the Easter Rebellion of 1916 and the subsequent Irish War of Independence, cooperation with Prohibition in the United States (which was the largest export market for Irish Whiskey) by not supplying the black market through bootleggers and the Irish Civil War. The true death knell came in the 1930s when the Economic War (also know as the Anglo-Irish Trade War) blocked Irish exports from all markets in the British Commonwealth and the Great Depression prevented the industry from bouncing back from the horrible 1920s, leaving a decimated industry behind, comprising of only three distilleries in the Republic: Jameson, Powers and Cork Distillery. They merged to form Irish Distillers Ltd. in 1966, with Bushmills, a UK company, joining in 1972.
By 1975, there were two distilleries in Ireland, both owned by Irish Distillers – Bushmills and Midleton, in Cork. Irish potstill whisky was still made at Midleton, but was wholly used in Jameson Blended Whiskey, which was to become the cornerstone to the resurgence of Irish whisky in the 1990s, following Pernod Ricard’s purchase of Midleton (Jameson) and their throwing their marketing power into the promotion of Irish whiskey, a move followed by Diageo’s purchase of Bushmills. Also, the establishment of an independent distillery by John Teeling in 1987 marked the first new distillery on the island in over 100 years.
The 1990s and especially the first decade and a half of the 21st century were really good to Irish whiskey, and its popularity surged, prompting the return of the most iconic Irish whiskys to the shelf – the Single Pot Still Whiskey.
This style of whisky is made at Midleton and is marketed under several brands like Redbreast, Powers and the Green Spot and Yellow Spot. It contains both malted and unmalted barley (but no other grain) and is triple distilled. The brands differ in the ratio of malted to unmalted barley and probably in distillation practices such as the cut and the speed of distillation, creating their distinct characters.
I tasted four expressions of Redbreast Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey (the fifth one I tasted was the 12 Year Old Cask Strength I tasted at the Show, but don’t have notes for it) in this flight.
Redbreast 12 Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey (40% ABV)
Appearance: Copper, thin legs that run down glass rather quickly.
Nose: Cereal, note of sherry, some baked fruit (though not overly sweet), caramel, stone fruit that’s maybe not fully ripe with white pepper and clove in the background with a whiff of perfume and the lightest musty note. I expected more of the mustiness here, but it’s not overly prominent in the nose.
Palate: Sweet and lightly musty with an almost bourbon like sweetness (tastes like the influence of corn, despite the fact that none is used in single pot still whiskey). The grain influence of the unmalted barley is strong. There’s a hint of chocolate and some saw dust.
Linger: A musty sweetness, some spice in the back of the throat with a long finish that’s not overly complex.
It’s very Irish, so I guess the guys and Midleton did a good job 🙂 I liked it better than both the Green Spot and Yellow Spot, and surprisingly less than the Jameson Caskmates (reviewed here).
This is an obvious case of de gustibus, as there can be no doubt as to the craft and quality that has gone into this whiskey, and my own non excitement over triple distilled whiskey is truly my own.